What Bengal thinks today may no longer be the stuff of what India thinks tomorrow. But things could be different at times. New Delhi may take a lesson or two from the way Mamata Banerjee has handled the statehood agitation in Darjeeling so far. She has shown that it is possible to deal with such stirs successfully without submitting to the politics of violence and blackmail. Her way of tackling the agitators in Darjeeling stood in sharp contrast with the near-total surrender of the previous Left Front government first to Subash Ghising and then to Bimal Gurung. The chief minister has achieved two crucial aims at the same time — she put an end to the statehood clamour, at least for now, and she brought the rule of law and economic development back on the agenda of the administration in Darjeeling. During the leftist regime, the writ of Writers’ Buildings practically ceased to run in the hills. It is possible that the statehood demand may yet be revived in Darjeeling. But Ms Banerjee’s methods have shown that a firm and determined government can hold its own against such agitations.
Statehood demands and the politics around them are not new in India. The Centre’s decision to create the new state of Telangana has re-ignited such demands in different parts of the country. States such as Assam, Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra have seen such demands being raised in the wake of the decision on Telangana. Things could have been different if the Centre and the Andhra Pradesh government had tackled the Telangana stir the way Ms Banerjee has dealt with the agitation in Darjeeling. After all, the issue of creating smaller states has much to do with the principles of federalism. The way the Centre ignored the sentiments of the majority of members in the Andhra Pradesh assembly on Telangana goes against the federalist ideals of the founders of the Constitution. Although the Constitution does not make it mandatory for the Centre to consult a state government on dividing its territory, unilateral actions by New Delhi can only vitiate Centre-state relations. After all, the Centre cannot claim to be the only government that knows what is best for a state or for the country as a whole. What Ms Banerjee has achieved in Darjeeling can be put to good uses elsewhere in the country where such agitations are increasingly posing fresh challenges to the administration.